Hello, Friends—both old and new.
I hope this past year for you has been one full of joy and thanksgiving. For myself, the previous 12 months have blessed me with an even greater understanding of the importance of family, friendship, and fellowship.
The Problem Was All in My Head
When you get to be 87 years old, you’re not surprised by the development of a new physical ailment. You either find treatment for it or learn to live with it (or, let’s be honest, a bit of both).
Emotional or mental ailments, on the other hand, can really catch you off guard. All through the summer of 2019, I was feeling joyless, anxious, and irritable, and I suffered from the most unusual and unhappy dreams. My doctors and I were at a loss to explain it. Were these feelings the side effects of an experimental drug study? Did I need to vary my routine or rest more often during the day? Maybe it was the weather (we certainly weren’t getting enough rain).
Ultimately, after a rather concerning dizzy spell, my doctors decided that, like all investigations, we really should start from the top. Of my head. Inside of an MRI machine.
And, lo and behold, what should they find in the very spot in my brain where my mirth, good-naturedness, and sweet dreams normally reside but a tumor. Plum-sized. Obvious, odious, ovoid, and thankfully, operable.
Things started moving swiftly then, for myself and my family and friends. Plans were cancelled and schedules revised. Less than a day after being admitted to the hospital, my numerous and rambunctious visitors earned themselves a reprimand from my nurses for being, well, too numerous and too rambunctious. The nurses accepted our apologies (and a few bags of cookies). My daughter Mona and my granddaughter Madison (who immediately flew in from Chicago) hosted a hospital sleepover for the two nights leading up to my surgery. The rest of my family organized “The Great Evva Hanes Hangout,” a round-the-clock calendar the purpose of which was to provide to me continuous and conscientious care and companionship during my weeks of recovery.
Friends, can you imagine how blessed and happy I felt to have, at every moment of my day, a daughter or a son or a grandchild within arm’s reach and a whole host of relatives and friends either stopping by my home or calling me on the phone to talk, to laugh, to tell stories, and to tell me how happy they were to talk, laugh, and tell stories with me? The surgery had certainly removed from me the source of my joylessness (indeed, the change in the recovery room was profound and instantaneous), but the love and consideration of my family and friends after the surgery is what returned to me my joy.
On Lockdowns, Backstock, and Baking All We’re Able To
Did you know that, every year, we begin in January baking cookies for Christmas? And it’s a good thing we’re able to start early, too, or else we could never bake enough to satisfy all of our loyal customers, much less fill their gift orders! It’s fortunate, then, that not only is our Ginger dough made without eggs or milk, the thinness of the cookies, the abundance of spices in the recipe, and our own time-tested storage techniques contribute to an extended shelf life which provides us with the time needed to build up a large enough inventory to meet demand come December. (In fact, to me, the Ginger cookies always taste a little sweeter after being put up for at least a few months.)
So, it was with great concern that we watched the events of early 2020 unfold. The safety and wellbeing of our employees has always been our primary concern and, were we unable to safeguard their health, we would have made the difficult decision to lockdown and cease production until the danger had passed. This would have left us with a considerable deficit when it came time to fill Christmas orders and we would have spent much of December in good health but begging forgiveness.
However, following the official guidelines on the necessary and recommended safety precautions for still-operating food-producing businesses, Jedidiah (bakery Vice President and my grandson) and Lori (bakery production manager and Jed’s fiancée) reorganized the baking area, sales area, and break rooms and redesigned our production and order fulfilment processes to ensure that everyone at Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies could remain healthy and happy even as we continued to hand-roll, hand-cut, and hand-pack our cookies. (Though we sure missed hugging each other at the end of the day!)
Unfortunately, we were unable to avoid suspending our tours for the duration of the lockdown. We certainly missed sharing our bakery’s history and the behind-the-scenes look at our business with the hundreds of schoolchildren, church groups, and families who visit us every year. We’ve been giving tours at the bakery ever since now-35-year-old Jedidiah was in kindergarten, and we can’t wait until the tradition can be resumed.
Normally, the tour groups would also purchase a lot of the flavors of cookies that have a shorter shelf life. In fact, by mid-April, we had so much backstock in certain flavors that, for the first time in our 60-year history, we sold some of our cookies at a discount. While this decision was a bit humbling, it was also gratifying to see the smiling eyes of so many of our loyal customers as they stopped by the store (or curbside) and picked up their favorite treat. You’re probably not surprised to learn that we sold through all our backstock in just two days. We were so busy, it felt like Christmas!
Familiar Busyness—and Some Family Business
I’ve mentioned before, Friends, that I’m not very good at sitting still. Long ago, I discovered that having a project ahead of me keeps my mind sharp and my spirits high. It wasn’t too long into the lockdown period than I began to feel very restless, eager to put my energies into some task. Thankfully, almost as soon as the need arose, the solution followed; can you guess what this cookbook author did to relieve her agitation?
I cooked. Well, not just cooked.
I baked. I fried. I simmered. I broiled.
I chopped. I pickled. I canned, and I boiled.
By April, I had gone from cooking for all 20 members of my family just one night a week to four or five nights a week.
Jedidiah and Lori had already taken over my vegetable garden last year and the bounty of their spring garden arrived just in time. We had lettuces, radishes, greens, carrots, cabbages, beets, turnips, and potatoes. I learned the traditions of gardening and cooking from my father and mother and it’s important to me to pass these traditions on to the next generation.
Gathering around the supper table and sharing in a home-cooked meal, especially one with fresh-from-the-garden vegetables, isn’t just about satisfying an individual family member’s physical hunger (or about satisfying the need of a restless grandmother to have something to do during a lockdown). If I learned anything from this period of required separation—its cancelled tours and cancelled hugs, its deserted restaurants and restive restaurateurs, the furloughed, the fallow, the forgotten, the silent sanctuaries of streamed church services, the strange veiled faces of strangers, and the strange veiled faces of friends—what I’ve learned is that we cannot be so apart for so long, that there is a limit to how separate we will allow ourselves to be made, and that we will return to one another once the distancing is done. And when my family returns to one another, they do so at the supper table, sharing in a home-cooked meal, with fresh-from-the-garden vegetables.
In May, my granddaughter, Madison, and her fiancé, Jim, both lawyers in Chicago but able to work remotely for a time, arrived in North Carolina to stay with my daughter and son-in-law, Mona and Scott. With all the grandchildren home from school and from work, and with all the dinners I was cooking, it seemed like a second “Great Evva Hanes Hangout” was underway.
The couple brought with them a pair of gentle, elderly, and unavoidably indoor dogs. Mona was never much of a fan of having pets in the house and, after calling me to share her shock at the sight of two sizable animals taking up the entirety of her living room loveseat, she sighed and said, “Oh well…The things one is willing to do for one’s children.” Such a motherly cliché, I could have said it myself. In fact, I did. When Mona was a young girl. Many, many times.
Madison and Jim also brought with them an exciting announcement: my first great-grandchild, due in late November 2020! Just in time for the Christmas rush at the bakery. We are all thrilled to welcome a new generation of Official Cookie Taster to the family.
Our Bakery in Our State and the State of Our Bakery
In November 2019, Our State Magazine, a monthly food, travel, lifestyle, and history magazine that “celebrates the very best of North Carolina,” gave us the honor of appearing in their article, “Our Sweetest Symbol.” As a companion to their article, Our State also produced the short film “How Mrs. Hanes Made the Modern Moravian Cookie,” a beautiful and moving portrait of our bakery and its history. If you have not yet done so, go watch it now. It really is something very special; I still gives me chills, everytime. You can find the link to it on our website’s homepage at www.HanesCookies.com.
As the film shows, nothing has changed about the way we make our cookies; each one is still hand-rolled, hand-cut, and hand-packed. However, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy making improvements to other parts of the bakery business. Lori, as our new production manager, has made amazing progress in increasing the efficiency and organization of our rolling and baking processes. Jed has continued to modernize the technology side of the business, updating our phones, website, and order management software, as well as setting up a point-of-sale and integrated inventory tracking system.
One consequence of these improvements was that we were able to secure some very competitive shipping rates and it is our joy to pass these savings onto you, our dear customers and friends.
We are pleased to announce:
$9.00 Flat-Rate Shipping to All 50 States!
What does this mean?
For each address to which you are sending cookies, the shipping is just $9.00, no matter how large the order.
One tin? Shipping is just $9.00!
100 tins? Shipping is still just $9.00!
Any combination of 14oz tins, 28oz tins, and pairs of tubes? $9.00 shipping, per address.
We hope you take full advantage of this simplified pricing structure and request an extra tin or two. Order enough for a party and invite over a crowd. Host your own “Mrs. Hanes Hangout” and share a traditional, hand-made treat with the people nearest and dearest to yourselves. These traditions—of gathering together with one another, of passing around jokes and stories and memories and, yes, delicious food, and being aware of one another’s needs, soothing one another’s fears, and upholding one another’s hopes—these traditions are what bind us together as families, and friends, and communities. And the only thing you need to create, maintain, and pass down these traditions is some singular reason, be it momentous or trivial, for folks to get together in the first place.
Sometimes, that reason is cookies.
Sometimes, that reason is a newborn baby.
And sometimes, that reason is the supper table, sharing in a home-cooked meal, with fresh-from-the-garden vegetables.
Thank you, my dear Friends, for making us a part of your traditions.